Charity work in Jamaica
It all started at Olive Garden after a Brooklyn Nets game the day before Christmas Eve. I was sitting next to Andrew and his lovely mother, just chatting as people usual do over unlimited garlic bread and salad. His mother started talking about their foundation (The RuJohn Foundation) and the charity week they do every summer in Jamaica. That's when I chimed in a told her about my experience in Haiti and told her that I'd love to work with her foundation one day.
That was it. Or so I thought. Fast forward to March or so when I get a call from Mrs. Bachelor offering me a spot on the charity trip. All I would have to do is lead the acting workshops with two different high school aged groups, one in Kingston and one in Montego Bay. Perfect! I can do that with my eyes closed. Just one more thing -- I'd be organizing and facilitating the workshops with a few other actors. Lamorne Morris (Fox's New Girl), Robert Ri'chard (Coach Carter, Cousin Skeeter), Raven Symone (The Cosby Show, That's So Raven), Lance Gross (Tyler Perry's House of Payne, Meet the Browns, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor) & others.
Wait what? I was terrified. Before the trip, I didn't have the confidence in myself as actress to think I could lead these really successful actors down a hallway let alone through acting workshops. The days before the trip I got increasingly anxious. I'm not skinny enough to be in a bikini around all these sexy folk! I'm not an accomplished enough actress to do this -- how am I going to answer the dreaded 'so what have you been in' question? What if I look completely stupid? What if the other actors don't trust me?
I rehearsed my speech to the actors explaining how the workshops would run over and over. I memorized it like I would a monologue. I rehearsed the workshop and memorized how I would explain the activities, focusing on clarity and brevity. I couldn't stop rehearsing and obsessing because I felt I had something to prove.
And then I arrived to the airport and I started to meet the actors and other participants (NBA and NFL athletes like Andray Blatche and Darius Butler and other dancers, and professionals all volunteering their time). I realized that they were just people like me and I loosened up a little. Under the shared goal of providing services and experience to kids who wouldn't otherwise receive it, it was unbelievably easy to connect and make friends.
The workshops went off extremely well. The actors were engaged, cooperative, generous and honest in the room. The kids were committed and thankful for the experience and so talented. I had the same feeling I had working with my students in Haiti last summer. I understood once again two things: theater is innately shamanistic. It moves energies and transforms and serves as a conduit for powerful human interaction. The other is that people are naturally creative beings. The stuff these kids came up with in less than an hour was amazing.
See for yourself.
One thing I took away from the talk back sessions for the participants was Robert Ri'chard's note on realizing the difference between fame and acting. For me that was a key point and I was happy to see the actors relating so honestly to the students. This reinforced the idea -- which I have stated many times before -- is that the focus should always be on doing good work. Create a body of work you are proud of above all. The highlight of the trip was on the bus ride after the workshop when Raven turned to me and said "What do you do? Whatever it is I want to see you work more. You have a really calm spirit and you're very good at what you do." Can't really describe what it feels like to have an actress of her level say something like that to me.
Also the accommodations weren't bad.
One of the best experiences of my life. For sure.